Jeffrey R. Young
October 20, 2022
Higher education may never be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s true even for the most elite colleges. A group of researchers at Stanford University spent the past year documenting how teaching and student services changed at Stanford during emergency remote learning, and their report, released today, argues that there’s been a shift in the institution’s identity as a result.
Like an A+ student seeking extra credit, Stanford’s research team seemed to attempt to create a more thorough review of pandemic impact than its peers, like Harvard University and MIT, which have issued similar reviews. The 87-page report is informed by interviews with 59 administrators and faculty, as well as a survey of 6,000 students.
The health emergency spread everywhere on the planet, of course, but Stanford had an unusual amount of resources to deploy to respond. And, as the report notes, it is located in Silicon Valley, a short drive from the offices of Zoom, a tool that became the instant online classroom at so many universities, and its administrators knew the company’s leaders well.
Still, like at most colleges, many Stanford professors struggled to adjust to teaching online in the beginning.
“Moving to online was scary for us as faculty,” one Stanford professor, Elizabeth Bernhardt-Kamil, told the report’s authors. “I was certain it was not going to work.” But that professor said she got over that feeling “in about 10 days,” and the report goes out of its way to celebrate experiments and innovations in teaching developed while campus was closed, some of which have led to lasting changes in teaching and attitudes.
Students, too, found it challenging to adapt to virtual instruction. Nearly 80 percent of students surveyed by the university said they found it difficult to focus during online instruction. And with the campus closed, access to instruction became uneven for different kinds of students. For instance, 45 percent of first-generation and low-income Stanford students reported that they did not have a productive place to study and work, while only 25 percent of other students reported that as an issue.